With a plot line similar to Ann Noble’s Ireland-set “The Pagans,” scripter Garth Stein (Oscar winner for 1991 live-action short, “The Lunch Date”) focuses on the upheaval that occurs with the arrival of a life-plagued prodigal son. He has fashioned a thematically simplistic, but character rich, legiter focusing on the monumentally dysfunctional Riddell family. Weaknesses in the script aren’t solved by helmer Tony Gatto, but he does elicit memorable performances from the five cast members, each of whom invests the characters with palpable personality and sense of purpose.
Storyline unfolds with uneventful precision, providing little more than the connective material that binds the characters together. Successful East Coast boat designer Jones Riddell (Patrick Gorman) and his equally successful English-born literary agent wife Sara (Elizabeth Reynolds) have returned to his ancestral home, a formerly grand but now decaying logging estate in Washington’s timber country. The occasion is the wedding of his baby sister Eliza (Ongyie Phoeriy), whom he hasn’t seen since she was a toddler.
Having fled the property 20 years earlier as a teenager after the death of his mother, Jones is immediately caught up in a re-hash of his family’s gothic history, orchestrated by Jones’s ragingly unhappy younger sister Serena (Tricia Allen). Guileless Eliza and their near catatonic father Samuel (John Ross Clark) serve as fodder for Serena’s malevolent sojourn down memory lane.
To give the proceedings a few touches of fatalism and mysticism, the playwright has thrown in references to a possible familial genetic flaw and the ghostly wondering of mother Riddell. The work, though, is really driven by Serena’s seething, licentious confrontations with brother Jones and the resulting consequences it has on Jones’s relationship with his wife, his baby sister and his father.
Allen is awe-inspiring as the needy Eliza, who is pinning her salvation on her brother’s return. Allen invests Eliza with such internal fury and sensuality, it makes credible the playwright’s arbitrary play-ending shenanigans. Gorman’s Jones is an impressive amalgam of overt masculinity and social inadequacy. He makes believable Serena’s recollections of Jones’s heroically mature efforts to keep the family going as a teenager and his current emotional ineffectualness as an adult.
Phoeriy proves an endearingly simple-minded Eliza. Clark imbues Samuel with a brooding veracity that makes plausible the old man’s constantly shifting sense of reality. Reynolds’ staunchly sophisticated, levelheaded Sara provides a much-needed counter-balance to the obtuse Riddell family dynamic.
“Brother Jones” suffers the disadvantage of having to share stage space with another production’s set.